Another relevant link from 20 July’s Shelf Awareness
We can feel the boat speeding up. The water is rushing whiter, and flowing faster. The banks are closing in and becoming steeper and steeper. It’s exhilarating, almost too exciting — but just around the next bend will be the good old placid river we all love to float down. Maybe.
We have come though a few weeks of changes.
1. The Economist’s April 14th issue includes two articles about our business, one on e-book publishing and the other a leader about the high cost of academic journals. They suggest that the publishers are involved in selling back to the taxpayer the results of research we’ve already paid for. Not a good issue to be raising just now!
2. The DoJ suit against Apple and the two unrepentant agency pricing publishers continues.
3. The PEW Research Centre’s Internet and American Life Project on e-books is getting wide coverage, suggesting deep changes in the activities of readers.
4. NPR’s On the Media broadcast this week was about our industry and the problems facing it.
5. Amazon is starting to eat more and more of our lunch. They just became the publishers of the James Bond books.
6. The pressure from Amazon only gets more intense: the more they sell of our books the bigger the discount they will want. Non-compliance may result in the disabling of the buy button for a publisher’s books.
7. The Google settlement — whatever is happening there?
I promise to try to do no more posts on the future of publishing. I want to stop beating this particular horse. In return, please, please, all think about what steps you can take to prepare for the inevitable and huge changes that are coming to a desk near yours.
Strictly speaking a font (fount in UK) is a number of alphabets (plus a few additional characters) in one size and one type design. Just as many of the terms in our industry date from the days of hot-metal type, the word font/fount derives from the same root as foundry (French fondre) and reminds us of the pouring of molten type metal into the matrices from which the individual letter would be cast. The font would be the result of this process.
We tend to use the word font now to mean typeface — as in say Baskerville — whereas the strict definition would mean merely Baskerville Roman, Italic, Bold, Bold Italic and Small Caps in say 10 point. If the job needed 12 point too that would call for another font of the same five alphabets. There’s no fighting this shift in meaning though — the power of Apple’s drop down menu means that font means typeface now.
There are one or two traditionalists still stubborn enough to claim that ebooks will never catch on, but mostly we’ve moved on from there. I am quite often reproached by colleagues that I am anti-book. They are of course wrong (would I write all this stuff if that was true?), and their reaction to my willingness to confront the possibility of a future wildly different from the one we all know and love is no doubt a perfectly understandable basis for their reaction. Sitting around saying “print books are better” is not going to have any effect on what it is the world eventually decides it wants. Recognizing that many of us could be out of a job quite soon should be a valuable first step to taking control of our careers and rejigging our skill-sets. Denying things just won’t make them not happen. Ebooks continue to gain acceptance in the marketplace. On 5 April 2012 “Brave New World”, the blog of the Booksellers Association of UK & Ireland brings us this report:
We know that readers are reading more ebooks in the US, but now new research gives us some interesting insights into their behaviour and their use of digital and physical content. Some 30% of those that read econtent claim that that they now read longer, with some 41% of tablet readers and 35% of ereaders readers claiming to be reading more. The research claims one-fifth of American adults (21%) have read an e-book in the past year, which is an increase of some 4% on those who, in December, claimed to have read an e-book in the previous year. This is probably understandable given the amount of devices that were received as presents over the Holiday and Christmas period.
Is it surprising that those who read ebooks, read more books than those who don’t have devices? One would assume that those who have bought the devices would have done so to read and therefore would be readers, and gifts would be probably given to people who are known readers, so it’s not surprising that they have used the devices and even have read more as they go through their early adoption phase. The figures make one assume the survey demographic chosen are heavy readers, but the figures given are that the survey included readers who had read; only 1 book (8%), 2-3 books(17%), 4-5 books(16%), 6-10books (19%), 11-20 books(18%) and over 20 books (22%).
The first interesting point is that that those of who read an e-book in the past 12 months, some 42%, did so on a computer. This compared to those who used an ebook reader (43%), a smartphone (29%) and a tablet (23%). This issue is however is whether the high level of computer reading is down to transition and adoption of new devices and if it was consistent over the full year.
The next interesting point claimed by the research was that some 88% of those who read an e-book also read a printed book. Of those surveyed, 14% claim to have read both printed books and e-books. Overall, over the year, 72% of adults surveyed read a print book, 21% read an e-book, and 11% listened to an audiobook.
The research also looked at the reading behaviour and why readers read ebooks. Again we could suggest that 2011 was a transient year in the US and although the research claims book readers are more likely buy their most recent books (48%), rather than borrowed them (24%), or loan them from a library (14%), we have yet to see the real loan, rental and alternatives such as ‘on demand models’ in the market. DRM still remains a borrowers and consumer nightmare and today will constrain borrowing. However, it was interesting that those how read both physical and digital books preferred e-books when they sought convenience to buy quickly, when travelling or commuting and when they wanted to review a wide range of titles. As for that favourite reading place the result was split with 45% prefer reading e-books in bed, while 43% prefer print.
Book recommendations clearly should be a wake-up call for all those that believe that we are still in a mass market community. The vast majority, some 81% of ereader and tablet owners, get recommendations from ‘friends and family’. This also applies to non ereaders surveyed (64%) too. On line bookstores and web sites were high influencers with 56% and 28% respectively but physical bookstores and libraries had far less influence (31% vs 23%) and 21% vs 19%) respectively. Social networking and usage of friends and family is an obvious pivotal key for all.
The main reasons given by those who do not own ereaders and tablet devices are; they don’t need or want one, they can’t afford one, they have enough digital devices already, or they prefer printed books. Not exactly rocket science but confirms what we probably already knew. The survey found that 19% owned a reader and same number owned a tablet but it didn’t identify how many owned both. Of the tablets 61% were iPad and 14% Kindle Fire 14% with the Nook only registering 1%. Of the reader devices Kindle were 62%, Nook 22% and Kobo and Sony only 1% and 2% respectively. Of the adults who did not own a tablet 10% plan to buy one in the next six months and a further 8% eventually, whilst 8% who don’t have an ereader plan to purchase in next 6 months and 5% eventually. This would indicate that there is still significant device growth and that Amazon is very well positioned in both segments to achieve further growth in the US. What it clearly says also is that the device battles are clearly down to Apple versus Amazon today. How that may shift over time will be interesting to watch and also what happens with the great unread will be even more interesting to monitor.
It was a pity that the question of DRM appears to have not been covered, along with the question of perceived ownership versus licence and the lack of ‘first sale doctrine’. These are perceived consumer issues and this would have been a great opportunity to gauge consumer perception.
Finally, the survey also claims that although econtent is relatively easy to find, 23% of those who read ebooks, digital newspapers, magazines, etc. can’t find what they are looking for or its not available in the format they require it. Although the detail is somewhat ambiguous the message should be noted.
The research may not be news to many but what is important is that we monitor these social changes in reading habits and understand the market trends.
The research was prepared by Princeton Survey Research Associates International for the PEW Research Centre’s Internet and American Life Project and the Gates Foundation. The project was underwritten by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Here’s a chart taken from that same research, brought to us by Business Insider also on 5 April as their Silicon Alley Insider Chart of the Day. They entitle the chart “The Death of Printed Books” which hints at what they make of the information in it! Of course one survey is just one survey and results can change over time. But do we really think things are ever going to swing back to favor the printed book over the ebook?
Ebooks are real, and no amount of head-in-sand-burying is going to make them go away. The reading experience today is not anything like what it will become in a few years. The improvements will make the ereading experience overwhelmingly superior to turning pages in a printed book. I fear that however much some of us may love a well-printed book, the fact that ebooks are and will always be cheaper to produce means that the print book will eventually be squeezed out. I bet there were lots of people in the 15th century saying that these new-fangled print books would never take the place of a beautifully hand-written volume, but of course the scribes rapidly lost out to the more efficient print medium. Yes, you can still get a book copied by hand, but it will cost you so much that few people can afford to pursue that hobby. Cheapness and convenience will always win out.
The most thoughtful piece I’ve found yet about the difference between the experience of reading an ebook and a printed book is from The Technium. It’s well worth reading.
When you think about it the speed at which printing presses run makes it miraculous that a dot can be placed with such accuracy. Four color printing requires millions of dots to be placed in an accurate rosette pattern, one blue (cyan) one magenta (red) one yellow and one black (CMYK), carrying information about the color of that tiny piece of the picture being reproduced. Get out your magnifying glass (loupe, in the business) and admire. The accurate positioning of one color to the others is called register. As the accompanying post from Dead Tree Edition says, 1/300th of an inch is enough to make a job “out of register”.
Tyro book designers should beware: setting small type in more than one color is a quick and dirty way to show the limitations of offset press equipment. Being off register in a picture is not ideal, but you will still be able to make out the subject of the picture — almost any newspaper will illustrate this, though they use a fairly course screen. With type the confusion made by the slightest variation in dot position will quickly make 10 point type unreadable. Type should always be printed in one color, unless it’s large display type. It’s also a bad idea to drop small type, especially if it has fine lines or serifs, out of a solid background. To drop it out of a four-color tint is suicidal (well, more accurately, murderous).
These three are on a sort of rising scale. Copyright is almost unavoidable, the other two require larger efforts, ending up with lots of lawyers, and hence significant cost. In the book business we mostly deal with the first only, though I do have a friend who patented a method of binding a book in a molded plastic cover, and of course we all dream of “creating” a property that requires trademarking.
This post from Fresh Asylum sets out the differences quite succinctly.
People tend to assume that the copyright date in a book is the same as the date of first publication. This is only approximately true.
If a book is published in say 2005 as a hardback, then published two years later in paperback, the copyright date for the paperback is still 2005. So the paperback will say © 2005 even though the first time this ISBN appeared in print was 2007. The wish of young editorial assistants to change the copyright date to 2007 should be resisted. The copyright date is an unalterable fact: the book was copyrighted in this or that year. Just because it is now published in a different form, even by a different publisher, this date does not change. The Library of Congress has it recorded as 2005, and nothing a publisher may get up to can change that. When publishers take over other companies, the copyright date of the books acquired cannot change, nor can the name of the copyright owner — unless that is the content changes (significantly), in other words unless a new edition is published in which case a new copyright registration will (probably) take place.
An additional complication is introduced by the habit of using the copyright date almost as a marketing tool. If your book says copyright 2013 even if it’s published today, it will always look slightly more up-to-date that if it told the literal truth. Educational publishers now tend to put a large proportion of their copyright dates one year ahead. There’s no doubt a rationale used to justify this, probably having to do with the academic year for which the book is first available. The copyright law allows for the copyright date to be off by one year — no doubt with the expectation that the “error” would usually tend to be in the opposite direction because of books delayed during production.
When the books had been shipped off to the Post Office, copies of the invoices were sent upstairs to Accounts Receivable and were entered in huge ledger books. These books were about 2 feet tall by 3 feet wide, quarter leather bound, and would have pages pasted into them to the stubs in the spine. They lived on high, steeply-sloped, desks. In the rush at the end of the day verbal notification might take over: I have seen at the burnt out ends of smoky days the warehouse manager’s assistant running upstairs shouting “One Pitt Press Pericles” (pronounced to rhyme with hysterical, which in London ends with a w), and the stoic accounts clerk swing open his huge book, climb once more onto his high stool, dip his pen into the inkwell and write a “1” next to all the other 1s on the page. At the end of the year all the digits would be added up and royalties paid on the resulting totals. Mistakes in royalty statements were rare.
The occasion for the one copy sold without invoice at the end of the day was probably a trade counter sale. London booksellers would never order from a publisher — or at least they’d never order in the normal way, by putting an order form in an envelope and entrusting it to the Royal Mail. When they needed books they’d write out an order slip, give it to their messenger, and have him drive or bicycle over to the publisher’s trade counter. Cambridge University Press’ was in the Mews behind our 200 Euston Road building where the deliveries were also made. The bookshop drivers would have a regular route and were well known to the staff at the trade counter, so life there had about it more of the social club than the business. Tea would be served. Later in the day though things might hot up as drivers rushed in for books needed for a customer that day. As the day’s invoicing run had been completed hours before we would give them the book without any invoice, and add to next day’s run a pro-forma invoice for that title, so that the accounts were kept straight.
We dealt with one mail-order bookseller who never seemed to obtain books in any other way than from the trade counter. He came by almost every day. Whenever we received an order from a member of the public which we couldn’t fulfill we’d give it to him, and have him make the sale. “Orders we couldn’t fulfill” meant book orders really. We would retail university and GCE examination papers, but in those days all publishers would refuse to sell a real book to the public, as a gesture of support for the retail book trade. In my memory he is always decked out in a scruffy beige raincoat, with a dark suit, a white shirt and no tie, rather greasy hair and two-day stubble. He spoke very softly: so softly that while it was evident that he was central European, you were never able to hear well enough to make a guess at which country he might come from. His in-house contact was Miss I, who worked for me. She was the queen of examination papers and whatever else it was we sold direct. Apart form University Statutes, Members’ Lists, the University Diary, and the Cambridge Reporter, I cannot remember what this would be, but whatever it was she had a firm grip on it. With her, subordinate, but not reporting to her I think, was Miss J who came from Camden or Kentish Town and had large brightly colored spectacles and a shrill voice, often raised in argument with Miss I. I also had two Cypriot Greek girls. Furthermore I had a Secretary, a well brought-up girl from the West Country who would take dictation whenever I broke silence.
When I started work this Home Sales services team was headed by Mr Phillips, a man whose fiftieth anniversary party with the firm occurred shortly before he retired and turned the reins of office over to me. He walked with a heavy limp, the result of a war wound. Apparently home-front employees took turns being fire wardens on the roof of the building, and on one of his tours of duty he was moving a cast-iron central heating radiator around when it dropped on his foot, removing some of his toes. It’s an indication of the formality of relationships at work in those days that I’ve no idea what Mr Phillips’ first name was. His responsibilities, and mine as soon as he retired, were to maintain contact with two teams of sales representatives, trade and school, make sure they got copies of the books they needed, process their sales reports, especially the school reps reports which would include many requests for inspection copies. Because one of the options that a teacher had upon getting an inspection copy was to pay for it and keep it, he was also in charge of whatever retail sales we did: hence Miss I and our mail order bookseller. However neither he, nor I, was in charge of the library on the first floor where walk-in customers could buy the same products which Miss I would retail by mail. The librarian reported to my boss.
I think the librarian and Miss I must have sold Bibles to the public. Certainly a gross amount of our time was given over to the mysteries of Bible publishing with its yapp edges, center references, red letters and skiver linings. In fact when I got an assistant he devoted considerable hours to memorizing the intricacies of the Bible style numbering system which did indeed provide an arcane key to the whole thing. Whatever difference you could imagine between one Bible and another had its counterpart in the number/letter coding of the style number. So you could say 87SXT5YY to him and he’d be able to discourse for 20 minutes on the features to be found in the book so designated. He still can, though now involved in radically different publishing.
In those days Bibles were big business. I recall going to Belfast with the Scottish trade rep who covered Northern Ireland, and visiting a tiny back-street bookshop where there was a small windowless back room stacked from floor to ceiling all around with Cambridge Bibles. It was almost like a sandbagged defensive retreat against the rioters who were beginning to cause trouble at that time. But nowhere was the Bible business as big as it was in America. From time to time we’d receive a visit from the man we regarded as God’s Representative on Earth, the New York Bible Manager. An Englishman who’d gone over for the Press to goose up American Bible sales, he was successful beyond all belief. Towards the end of his life he used to moan that he was a failure as he’d not made as much of the Bible business in America as he could have done. What nonsense; but just the sort of nonsense you’d expect from one of the nicest, least conceited men you’d ever want to meet.
The publishing life of the sixties did not involve high pressure. My boss told me that as my hair grew on company time it was altogether appropriate to have it cut during business hours. Every day a large box circulated around the managers (and this included even me) with carbon copies of all the previous day’s correspondence written by anyone. We would read this. Also circulated was every daily newspaper and many weekly and monthly magazines. These we’d also read. New books would also circulate, and I’d always try to read a bit of each of them. After all you want to know what’s going on in the company, don’t you? People were rather formal in business relations in those days. It was not till the early 70s when I was working in Production that I first addressed and was addressed by a person working outside the company as anything other than Mr this or Mr that. It is true that editors did tend to address their authors and other academics as “Smith” and “Jones”, but that rather public school mode of address carries with it its own brand of formality. I certainly never addressed Miss I or Miss J as anything other than that. Almost everything was done by mail. We did have telephones, but they were not used as they are today. Taking quick care of an emergency meant writing a reply the day after receiving the letter rather than a week or two later! I can remember once, a few years later, chasing a printer for an estimate (requested five or six weeks earlier, by mail of course) by telephoning and being told “Yes, Mr Hollick, don’t worry we do have the manuscript. It’s here in my in-box, and I’ll be getting to it quite soon.” When I arrived in the New York office, in June 1974, I found on my desk a manuscript I myself had sent over for typesetting in America (the first we did this way). When I expressed polite surprise that a job I had sent over in March had not moved beyond the production manager’s desk in three months, my predecessor said “Don’t worry. They do everything so fast over here that if you send it off to the printer in a week or two they’ll never notice the difference in Cambridge.” And they didn’t.
In Bentley House, CUP’s London office and warehouse on Euston Road, managers would have coffee in the morning in the London Manager’s office. I can’t remember tea: though I do of course remember it in the Oriel Room of the Pitt Building in Cambridge: an impressive and unforgettable event. We were all very well informed about what everyone else was up to. People did tend to get to work pretty much on time — and to leave on time too. Ken Nightingale was our Stock Controller, and I used to have lunch most days in the canteen on the second floor with him, Bob Cowper (a kind of roving office manager/jack-of-all-trades), and Margaret Yayawi (head of the typing pool). Not sure how you spell that name, but I always remember it as an extremely emphatic assertion of agreement by a bi-lingual European.
One day the Bentley House wages were stolen. In those days most of the workers wanted to be paid in cash, so every week (or maybe it was every two weeks) someone went over to the bank at the corner of Euston Road and Upper Woburn Place to collect the money. This was usually a clerk, female. The inviting target was hit one week, and thereafter it was decreed that the wages would be collected by two together, both able-bodied, and male. We rotated the duty, and got to feel daring and responsible as we lugged back the canvas bag of coin and the wads of bills which we stuffed in various pockets. Nobody ever attacked us: we used to swing that bag of coin in anticipation though.
My job was almost ideal as an introduction to publishing. I got to disentangle problems between us and our customers, and was licensed to poke my nose into every corner. One of my tasks was to arrange the sales conference. As a friend of mine from university was the son of a hotelier family with interests clustered around Russell Square, I got to fix up conferences in a variety of local hotels. I can remember being spell-bound by the performance of the editors at my early sales conferences. I recall especially the science editor, whose dry delivery seemed perfectly adapted to the impressive sounding detail about the uptake and storage of noradrenaline and other such aracana with which he regaled us. In those days every book we published was spoken about in the sales conference, no matter how specialized, and one could glean a smattering of information about a bewildering array of topics in a short couple of days. This has paid off generously in my later U.S. life, in an ability to pontificate apparently fluently on virtually any subject you’d care to name. American audiences do not share my enthusiasm for this facility.
The sixties marked the end of an era in British publishing. It was a business which had run pretty much unchanged since the late nineteenth century. Sure there had been ups and downs, good times and bad times, but people always needed books and there were always publishing houses, many dating from the nineteenth century or earlier, to satisfy that need. Most of the men in senior positions — and nearly everybody in a senior position was a man — had served in World War II. Those who had served on the home front had guided their firms through a relatively prosperous period of reduced activity. Paper was tightly rationed during the war, and publishers had to wait their turn to get their “approved” books printed at printing works most of whose workforce was away fighting. Almost anything that was printed would be sold since there was so little choice. As things opened up after the war, sales took off. People wanted books, and more significantly lots of libraries wanted books. The business went through a couple of decades of very pleasant prosperity. Ideas that today are almost second nature to publishing executives, like attention to the bottom line, profit margin, growth, capital utilization, cost control, were undreamed of, and had they been dreamed of would have been rejected at once as being in poor taste.
Now in those days, it has to be remembered, books were all printed by letterpress. It’s true that offset lithography had been invented almost a hundred years before, but the British book-printing industry went into the sixties with almost no offset equipment in operation. When a book is printed by letterpress, a certain technological determinism forces you to print as many as you think you will ever need. Almost the worst thing that could happen to a publisher would be to have to reprint a book a couple of years after publication. Letterpress printing is done directly from the metal type. Setting a book in type was a time-consuming thus expensive job, and not one that you’d want to do more than once. If you had to reset type to reprint, all the proofreading that was done the first time around would have to be done again, and human nature being what it is, it was almost certain that every reprint would come out with a fresh batch of errors in it. So not only was the quality of reprints questionable, their cost was as high as the first printing, and because of the passage of time the number you’d print was probably smaller, so the unit cost would be higher. Additionally it was quite likely in those days that the author’s contract would allow for an increased royalty on a reprint (since the publisher could easily give that away in negotiation as he of course planned never to reprint). Techniques of making moulds of the type had been developed, but were only viable in cases where you were certain of the need to reprint regularly: for instance some school textbooks and Bibles. A regular book would not support the cost of moulds, because in a self-fulfilling prophecy, the publisher was determined never to need to reprint.
So your job in fixing the print number was to estimate as closely as possible the largest number of books you might ever need. Ever in this context was taken to mean about 5 years. You’d press the button, get the books into the warehouse, and keep them there till they sold. Some you’d keep even longer. In the basement of Bentley House was the slow moving stock. On some of the shelves you’d find carefully wrapped slightly-damaged copies of the book. These were called “first copies” and were the ones you’d sell first when the book itself went out of print (at least that’s how I think the name came about). This projected things out to eternity: and it was good to feel that you were part of something that would be going on long after you yourself had been remaindered or wasted.